Recorded as MacLeary, McLearly, McCleary, O' Leary, Leary, Lary, and others, this is an Irish surname of great antiquity. It derives from of the pre 10th century Old Gaelic O'Laoghaire and as such translates literally as the 'keeper of the calves', although it may well have a more spiritual or religious origin. Laoghaire was the name borne by a 5th century King of Ireland who reigned at the time of St. Patrick, and it is from him that present day namebearers claim descent. The port Dun Laoghaire in County Dublin was named in his honour, the first element "dun" meaning fort or citadel. The (O)'Learys were chiefly located in the ancient territory of Muscraidhe where they ruled as chiefs under the paramount Mac Carthys. Their territory embraced north-west and central County Cork, and Inchigeela was their main centre. Two places called Ballyleary (from "baile", a town or settlement) are located in County Cork. A famous namebearer was Peadar O' Laoghaire (1839 - 1919), called in his day "the greatest living master of Gaelic prose", whilst Anne Leary, aged 20 year, embarked from Cobh, County Cork, on the ship "Liberty" bound for New York on May 21st 1846. She was a famine emigrant from Cork city. The family coat of arms has the blazon of a silver shield with a red lion passant in base, in chief a black ship of three masts sails set proper, from the stern the flag of St. George flotant. The first recorded spelling of the family name may be Mahon O'Leary, who after the failure of the 1601 rebellion and the battle of Kinsale, went to Spain and joined the forces of that country. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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